2014 Year in Review: The Year Everything Changed

It’s been a long year.

I used to always do these for my deviantArt page, where I’d go over my various works and accomplishments. And in the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about this year. Thinking about how different a place I’m in now.

Most of you know that I’m a diehard fan of Babylon 5. People would ask “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” and my answer was always “Babylon 5.” Best damn science fiction series ever done. And yes, even better than Firefly. (Shun me if you must, but it’s true)

Season 4 was probably the best season of Babylon 5. You had the Earth Civil War and the end of the Shadow War. So much happened in that one year of storytelling. But what really stood out to me was the opening titles.

Babylon 5: Season 4

It was the year of fire… the year of destruction… the year we took back what was ours… It was the year of rebirth… the year of great sadness… the year of pain… and the year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed. The year is 2261. The place: Babylon 5.” 

That…is a very effective description of the last year. You know, save for the whole 2261 and Babylon 5 bit.

A Year of Fire, a Year of Destruction, The Year We Took Back What Was Ours…

2014 started with me on short-term disability from severe panic attacks in relation to…conflicts…with the Apple Store I was with at the time. Though I returned to work shortly after my birthday, the panic attacks resumed within two weeks. It was then when I realized that Apple–or at least that Apple Store–wasn’t the place for me anymore.

As I searched elsewhere for an escape from the madness and depression, things became apparent to me. That there were those who sought to see me gone from my position I had fought so hard to earn. I saw the “writing on the wall” as it where.

It was during a conversation where I saw these motions in play when I received a voicemail that changed everything.

You see, a week or so before, I had interviewed for a position with Blizzard Entertainment. That was within a few weeks of me applying. This was after several phone interviews, all of which I simply called out of work for.

Even in the midst of pain, fear and mental agony, everything changed. And a week later, I went outside to take a phone call on my last break of the day. During that phone call, I was offered the chance at a dream. A chance I never thought would actually happen. A chance to work for Blizzard Entertainment.

It was that day when I put in my two-week notice at Apple. It was the end of my history with Apple. After a fashion. I was sad to leave my friends. I was not sad to leave that store. I still hope for the people who remain…but even before my departure, many long-time employees had fled that store. I still have friends at that store…but they are few and far between.

I have no intention of ever walking in there again. Because the suffering my family endured at the hands of that Apple Store wasn’t over.

However, at the beginning of June, I got to walk onto Blizzard Campus for the second time. The first time was for my in-person interview. The second time…it was as an employee of Blizzard Entertainment. The things I’ve seen there…they still take my breath away. Even six months later (can you believe it’s already been that long?), I still make sure to drive by Building 1, with the huge “Blizzard Entertainment” logo in blue letters stand proudly at the top of the third floor.

I found a purpose there. I found people who respected my knowledge and my experience. A place where I can truly be myself. Where my crazy ideas aren’t shot down because “that’s not how we do things” or “that’s not the direction Corporate wants us to go.” Instead, I’m told “go for it.”

I did.

And I’m happy to say that in my time at Blizzard, I have completely rewritten the book on how they handle–ironically–Mac computers. I’ve said many times that I’m no Apple-head. I don’t think everything Apple does is perfect. I’ve endured too much to have any such illusions. But what I’ve accomplished there in six months has had a bigger impact than my entire time at Apple Retail.

Sadly, the suffering wasn’t over. In the months after my departure, my wife was subjected to cruelty, cowardice and mistreatment. They refused to accept her new schedule since I now had a job with regular hours. Instead of simply saying goodbye, they strung her along for six weeks before suddenly, one Saturday, terminating her for “attendance violation” because they forced her into a position where she would be required to call out, despite her constantly trying to get her shifts covered and notifying them well in advance.

That was a hard blow to us.

Thankfully, through multiple miracles, we were granted unemployment despite Apple’s “claims” on how Laura had left the company. And so, God gave us enough to survive even with my new pay at Blizzard.

And I prospered at Blizzard. Laura herself has said many times that though it is a little harder on us with me there, she’s far more happy that am happy. That’s what really matters. While things haven’t always been easy, I have to say…I do truly love my new job. And as I go into the new year, things look even brighter.

 

It was the year of rebirth… the year of great sadness… the year of pain…and the year of joy.

Yes, while the information above can very easily be handled by those words, other things did happen. Such as during December, both of my daughters had seizures within a few days of each other. We did three separate ER visits. Two overnight stays in the hospital. One fully battery of neurological exams including CTs and MRIs. I ended up watching each girl by myself for at least a day and a half each. And it happened the week before Christmas. It was also the week when Blizzard had all their special Christmas events, save for the actual company Christmas party. I remember when I called out on Wednesday because Caitlyn now had had a seizure…thinking that this was the most ridiculous excuse ever. Like calling for your sixth “grandmother’s funeral” in Discworld terms (If you’ve reach the City Watch books, you’ll get it).

In addition, the panic attacks haven’t really stopped. I thought changing jobs would help. And while that has helped, I’ve found that there is much more happening behind the scenes. I don’t pretend to understand it at all. At the moment, I’m just struggling through.

On rebirth though…I usually don’t like another year passing. It’s a reminder of everything I want to do but haven’t yet. Did you know that I had planned to have two novels published by now? Why didn’t this happen? Blizzard. And that’s okay. Blizzard changed everything for me. In fact, I’m going into my next birthday happy…looking forward to what the years ahead have in store for me at Blizzard.

It was a new age. It was the end of history. 

My writing? Well, I managed to knock out another NaNoWriMo, making this my fifth year running for winning the 50K race. This time it was a close one. And I finally rewrote Stormhaven, a project I’ve been meaning to do for years. I’m fairly happy with the outcome too.

In addition, I’ve published my second short story: “Beyond the Waterfall.” You should go check it out. Like right now. And if you could leave a review, it’d make my day. I published that back in September, though it was ready in July or so. There’s a process you have to go through when publishing fictional works now that I work for Blizzard. Oh well, it’s a small price to pay for working there.

I’ve recently started writing again. I took most of December off, as I’ll admit I was swept up into World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. Makes sense since my name is in the freaking credits now!

WoW:WoD Credits

 

My name should also be in the credits for the “Goblins vs. Gnomes” Hearthstone Expansion, but I haven’t actually looked that one up yet. But I have to say…seeing my name in the credits for World of Warcraft is a mind-blowing experience, especially since our subscriber base went from 7 million to 10 million within about a week of the launch. People like it. A lot. In other words, WoW isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Anyway, a little obsessive about that game. Heh. And that’s my “new age.” An age where I can finally be doing something that’s going to affect millions of players across the world. I’ve found bugs in places no one’s thought to look. Remember those Panderan Phoenix mounts you got from the Silver Challenge Mode Dungeons in Mists? Well, during August or so, I discovered a rather surprising bug that they weren’t going account-wide as was initially posted in a blog post. It was just something someone overlooked and that stuff happens. Let’s be honest…within a few minutes of people logging into WoD for the first time, people would have noticed. But I stopped that from happening. I got it in and even got some praise by the Dev saying “Good catch.” (I’m not revealing anything here. It’s actually buried in the patch notes somewhere).

That was awesome. Now that’s long past and I’ve found plenty of other things. I’m even happy to say that some of the hotfixes in the game have been from me, especially some of the ones involving legacy raids involving the whole stat squish thing. For all you legacy raiders out there, you’re welcome. 🙂

It’s totally awesome to see your work in the classic “Blue Text” of patch notes.

The funny thing is that’s not actually my job! It’s not my job to find bugs in the game itself. I’m supposed to handle the hardware side. But since I play this game every day the same way I’ve played it for years even after starting at Blizzard, I’m coming in with a unique perspective. I read the quests. I explore the details. I look around. There’s a lot of players who just hit “accept” the moment the quest pops up. I don’t. I’m emotionally attached to the characters. (And let’s just say that when I finally get in Creative Development, the Alliance is going to have their day (okay, I’m totally kidding, it would be years before I could do anything like that, but it’s a fun fantasy)). I play. And that’s gotten me a lot of cool things.

Otherwise, we now have two kids. That was the same as last year, but Tali’s now yammering away in her own speech, though she can say Mama, Dada and Yay. I love this. She danced to the Opening Intro of My Little Pony. Heh. Caitlyn was raised on Mass Effect and Tali’s going to be raised on My Little Pony. I’m okay with this.

But that brings about another change. I’ve said a dozen times that one of the reasons I threw myself into the Brony fandom is not only because of the amazing community, but because I realized I was afraid of what people might think if I decided to like this show. And that ticked me off.

Well, I’ve taken it to a whole new level at Blizzard. I’m actually leading the Blizzard Bronies. When I first arrived, I searched for the group, as there are Pony references littered throughout their games. (My favorite example is from Diablo 3. There’s an achievement named [Magical Mystery Couture] which just means you equip a wand, a source, and a wizard hat on your wizard at the same time. That’s a direct reference to the Season 3 finale “Magical Mystery Cure,” the musical episode where Twilight Sparkles ascends to alicorn and princess.)

Anyway, I was utterly shocked to find that there wasn’t one! After some internal debate, I decided “Screw it! I’ll start one!” For months, I was the only one in the group, because I had no way to advertise. Then someone in HR decided to do the old Summer Rush idea (you know, when all the college clubs would come out and have booths so people could sign up?). Well, I knew I would be the only one there, but I did it. I had my Build-a-Bear plushies, along with my vinyls, PMVs playing on my laptop and a signup sheet and a raffle with prizes I purchased myself. And I got eleven people.

Since then, my desk has become a tourist attraction for anybody who likes Ponies. (I have about a bajillion of them decorating my desk, screensaver and walls) A lot of the people are parents like me who got into it because of their daughters. Some of them are original Bronies, who just checked it out probably because the internet was flooded with them. But no matter what, it’s a good group now. There’s still some misunderstanding about the Brony sensation, but I’ve made it my mission to make sure people get it. They don’t have to like the show, but I want them to understand the purpose behind this culture and that it’s not weird or creepy.

I’m never going to convince everyone, but who knows? Maybe I can get a full “Elements of Harmony” quest line into the next WoW expansion. Heh. That would be awesome.

It was the year everything changed.

I think 2014 is the year of the greatest changes for us as a family. I know the addition of the kids are enormous changes to handle…but…well, remember those websites that list the events that cause the highest levels of stress? I just decided to pull one up at random. Now I know this isn’t purely scientific or anything, but here’s the events. (It’s based off of the The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, apparently)

#6 – Personal injury or illness – 53

#11 – Change in health of family member – 44

#15 – Business readjustment – 39

#16 – Change in financial state – 38

#22 – Change in responsibilities at work  – 29

#25 – Outstanding personal achievement – 28

#26 – Spouse begins or stops work – 26

#30 – Trouble with boss – 23

#31 – Change in work hours or conditions – 20

#38 – Change in sleeping habits – 16

#42 – Christmas – 12

My total is 364, which (according to the website) means I’m way above the normal line of stress. Heh. I could have told you that. Anyway, it’s just a random website I pulled up. But a lot of these events were one time events. The key is that we survived.

Laura and I have been through more than you can possibly believe. Things that I will not be sharing with you all, but know that since we managed to survive them before we had kids, it made us all the stronger. While we will probably always have the occasional fight, miscommunication, broken expectation or issue, both of us know that neither of us is walking.

Everything has changed. But instead of changing for the worse…or seeing the slow decline of my life into mediocrity, boredom and self-doubt, I can actually see a bright future ahead for the first time in a very long time.

The war with Apple is over. Laura and I are both done. We passed through it, battered, cracked and scarred, but we passed through it alive. And now, we have a whole new life to look forward to.

I think it’s only fitting that in the last few days, I’ve started a new story. You see, I’ve had trouble sleeping this last week (I got Christmas Eve-New Years Day as paid vacation) because of intense dreams. And I remembered something…that happens when I haven’t written.

This story isn’t actually new per-se. It’s a massive revision of a story I began in 2010 called “Rain.” It was a story I didn’t really know what I was doing with. Then I had this cool idea called “The Last Dreamer” about a future where humanity has done away with sleep after an unexplained plague of nightmares prevents the entire human race from sleeping properly. They’ve replaced eight hours of sleep with this wondrous technology that requires them to enter stasis for three hours a day. That was after most of the population of the solar system went half-mad…or worse. So about a hundred years later…we have someone who can dream…someone without a name, without an identity…

Someone who isn’t affected by the nightmares. And what this individual has the ability to do will change the entire course of human history…and human society.

Cool, eh?

Anyway, this has been my year in review.

So there’s only one thing to do so I can end it properly.

That’s right…it’s PMV time.

I’ve done two major events for the Blizzard Bronies. A Double Feature starring “Double Rainboom” and “A Brony Tale” and Hearth’s Warming Eve with “Snowdrop,” “Children of the Night” and a couple other things. And I’ve found the perfect finale that I’ll be using for every Blizzard Bronies Featured Event.

“House of Ponies” by Racercarghost.

 

And then I just realized something. It’s actually not New Year’s Eve. It’s New Year’s Day. So I can’t “end” this. I need to “start” this. So there’s only one thing for it.

This is the introduction PMV I play to every one of my Blizzard Bronies events: “Together” by TheAcelps:

Here’s looking forward to a New Year for the first time in a long time. May it be filled with fun, friends, games and a hell of a lot of writing. 😉

-rks

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Back in the Saddle

Seriously?! Has it really been around three months since I posted in this thing?

I really shouldn’t be surprised. I have a terrible habit of getting really hung-ho about stuff like blogs and then just losing interest. Well, that’s not accurate. It’s more that I have a thousand other things that I decide to do.

So. What have I been doing for the last few months?

Well, let’s see…

  • Started a successful Brony group at Blizzard, who’s had one major event and is about to have a second.
  • Made it through an entire week without the kids or the wife as she took a vacation up in Reno while I remained working. That was a strange week. (And yes, it was really just a vacation)
  • Had issues with panic attacks on and off.
  • Successfully won NaNoWriMo 2014, making it my fifth year running.
  • Finished my rewrite of the webcomic novella Stormhaven into a full novel clocking in at 84K words.
  • Helped launch Warlords of Draenor, one of the most successful expansions Blizzard has ever released.
  • Played WAY TOO MUCH Warlords.
  • Before Warlords launched, I managed to secure the Challenge Mode: Gold achievement for Tyrimon, my Paladin, getting me the special transmog set and the now-impossible-to-obtain Pandarian Phoenixes.
  • I also managed to get Heirloom Weapons from Garrosh Hellscream for all my major characters and managed to get Laura a Heroic Kill of Garrosh as well before 6.0.2 launched.
  • Made it through Tali’s birthday party and associated events.
  • Attended my first Blizzcon as a Blizzard Employee and worked my first Blizzcon as a Blizzard Employee (I helped out with the SC2 tournaments…funny because SC2 isn’t something that really grabs me).
  • A thousand other things that I can’t even process.

I’m still doing the Pony thing. In fact, after today, I’ve decided I’m even more into it than ever before. I’m going to make it my mission to get it through people’s head that being a fan of MLP:FiM isn’t a disturbing or weird thing. Now there are always going to be ignorant people who don’t want to learn things. I don’t care about them. I care about the people who have brains and who just don’t know.

Because I used to be one of them.

I’m not leaving Blizzard anytime soon. I’m making a difference there. A big one. 🙂

But right now, I’m just dropping by to say I’m here.

Next week, I’ll have something more substantial.

Until then, good luck and have fun!

-rks

Miracles

I’m a believer in miracles. Why do you ask? Because in the last month and a half, I saw a whole lot of them performed. Some seriously impossible things came to pass. Things that shouldn’t have happened. Things that happened in such perfect timing that somebody had to be controlling it. In fact, God’s a freaking showoff most of the time. If you need further proof, look up at the night sky in the desert sometime. Tell me that’s not God just showing off. So what’s this all about anyway? Well, as many of you know, I’ve been talking about the “Cryptic Thing” for weeks now. I’ve already made the official announcement on Facebook, texted many friends and told people at work. It’s no longer a secret. Blizzard Achivement   That’s right folks. It’s official. As of June 9, I will be working at Blizzard Entertainment as a Compatibility Analyst II. This is what’s consumed my life for the last month and a half, since March 26, 2014. After six and a half years at the Apple Store at South Coast Plaza, I’m finally moving on. It’s still hard for me to believe. But an enormous weight has lifted off of me. Part of me was just exhausted all the time from carrying the secret. Another part of me was just desperate to have it over with so I could stop worrying/doubting/questioning what the final result would be. And another part of me is grinning like an idiot. Even as I write this, having returned my offer paperwork yesterday, it’s still not real. But it actually happened. God got me a job with my dream company. A company can easily see myself working at for the next thirty years. A company who can take their pick of anyone in the world. I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands, of people applied for this position. But God had my resume stand out to my recruiter. I don’t know why this happened. I really don’t. But I am thankful beyond words that it did. This is truly a dream come true to me.

Rawr.

Me standing before the 12′ wolf-riding orc before Blizzard HQ.

In celebration of this amazing event, I wrote a retrospective on my journey to Blizzard. You see, as I neared the end of the process, I looked back and realized that this had been in the works for something like ten years. From the arguments I used to have with my manager at CompUSA about WoW, to sitting at Fry’s during the Wrath Launch, to meeting our baby stalkers, to my honorable mention in the 2011 Blizzard Global Writing Contest to my finally getting Genius after years of work…it’s all led to this moment. It’s a rare moment when you can look back at your life and see all the threads weaving together to form the tapestry of this moment. I am blessed beyond measure to see that. And I thought I should share it with you. Now, as you may know, I’m somewhat long-winded, being a novelist and all. So I’m not going to dump all 6,000 words on you in one swoop. I’m going to do it in a few parts. In fact, I’ll be posting the first part right after this one. I might do the next tomorrow or the day after. Haven’t decided yet. We’ll see. But you didn’t think I’d let you get away without some awesome Pony stuff, did you? The Season 4 Finale of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic premiered last Saturday. And is was one of the most kick-ass episodes I’d ever seen. It shot straight to the top of my favorite episodes, because unlike many previous episodes, we get to see two magical titans going at one another. The gloves were off and it was a full fledged magical brawl. So I’m going to do a little spoiler here. And I’m stealing it straight from Equestria Daily’s Episode Followup of “Twilight’s Kingdom.” Library

If there’s one thing you don’t mess with, it’s Twilight’s books. Or her house. I’m having trouble deciding which one is actually making her more angry. Oh well, I’m sure this dispute between godlike magic users can be decided over a nice cup of-

Magic fireball 1

HOLY CRAP

Oh crap

JESUS CHRIST

Throwdown

IS THIS REAL LIFE

 

The magnitude and the spectacle of this scene can’t be done justice by words. The screencaps themselves are hardly describing how intense what’s happening is. This is like the battle between Luna and Celestia in the premiere but on a much more devastating scale, and a more emotionally impactful one I might argue because we actually don’t know how this is going to turn out.

You're toast.   … Still think this is a show just for little girls?   The moral of the story: Don’t &$@# with Twilight Sparkle.   And now…time for a PMV. 🙂   That’s it for today folks! Check out the Retrospective coming soon! 😀 -rks

Waiting on a Dream

Yup. Still waiting. The Endgame went well, I think. And now it’s just waiting for the yes or no. I have almost everything in place. The emails, the contact information, even a 6,000 word retrospective of everything that led me to where I am right now.

The waiting is seriously killing me though. Minor panic attacks have been hitting me since Thursday. I’m just tired of keeping the secret. I’m tired of only being able to talk to a select few about this and only in private settings. I want to explode with the news…but I want it to be true first.

So I’m stuck. I’m struggling to have patience and faith that God will handle it. It’s probably among the hardest thing I’ve ever done…but it’s also the only thing I can do.

I’ve done my absolute best.

And now it’s up to God to provide the miracle.

Stormhaven

Yay! I managed to find my cast photo for Stormhaven! Super excited about this. I’ve needed it for reference in my rewrite of the Stormhaven novella. And I’m enjoying that, despite being in a slow part. I don’t know if I’ll work on it today…I’m so tired. I’ve been exhausted since Thursday.

But I’m happy with this story…and it’s going to be my current project until I finish it. I just have to stay ahead of the OC Inklings and have 3,000 words edited every week. Eep. That’s huge. But I have plenty of room to maneuver.

Gaming

I’ve been in Diablo 3 most of the time. I tried the Witch Doctor and ended up hating it…but the Barbarian is far more fun, aside from the high level runs with my Wizard or Crusader. And I’ve been doing a lot of Hearthstone, but sadly, my original iPad Mini doesn’t run it well. I’m getting constant low memory errors. It’s annoying, but workable at the moment. *Sigh* I do enjoy the game though. It’s great to play on break at work.

Ponies

As some of you might know, the Season 4 finale of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic premiered yesterday. And holy crap. This was so freaking awesome. I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen it (and have any interest). But it is simply EPIC. DHX really shows off progress with art and effects…considering the combat at the end is mind-blowing.

It’s a great ending to probably the best season ever. Seriously. I freaking love this show.

Finale

Tali’s dedication this last Saturday went well, where we made a public declaration to raise her to follow Christ. And it turned into an impromptu Mother’s Day lunch too. That was good. My grandparents were there, my mother and of course us and the kids. It was a good time.

Other than that, I’m just waiting.

I don’t like waiting.

But I’ll wait.

And pray.

Special PMV this week…it’s the finale to Season 4.

It’ll probably be pulled in a few days, so enjoy it while you can. 🙂

Good luck and have fun!

-rks

Proud to be a Brony

I wanted to update you on the progress of Michael Morones’s Recovery Fund.

On January 30th, between the time I started my post and finished my post, the fund to cover Michael’s medical expenses had gone from $17,000ish to over $18,000.

Today?

Today the fund stands at $31,985.

$31,985 raised by 1,053 people in 5 days.

This astounds me. It’s simply mind-blowing. Sometimes, I doubt that there is much good in the world. You turn on the news and it’s nothing but pain and suffering. Wars, deaths, shootings, insanity, corruption… I was once in an advertising class where the teacher showed us the two greatest things to help advertising: sex and death. And to me, there’s been a lot of death lately.

And the worst part? It’s become part of pop culture.

I decided to check out this week’s Neilsen Ratings for Prime Broadcast TV.

Number Two is NCIS.

Number Seven is NCIS: Los Angeles

Number Eight is Criminal Minds.

Number Ten is CSI.

( I’ll behave myself and not rant about reality TV here, which held two spots in the list)

These are not uplifting shows. These are not shows about tolerance or friendship or kindness or love. These are shows often about what the worst of humanity does and how the various law enforcement agencies fight against it. Now maybe there’s some sense of comfort in seeing the legal process work. But I have to ask, is that what we should be focusing on?

And when I see this…

It makes me even prouder to be a Brony. Because it actually means something. It’s moved beyond just a fan thing. It’s a community. I’ll admit that I’m a fairly silent member of that community. I don’t go to cons or participate much in forums. I listen to the music, have way too much Pony fan art in my screensaver selection and buy the products that I really like and probably own just a few too many Pony shirts, but that’s it. In truth, I’m a bit afraid of trying a social situation with them. But that’s because of my own innate shyness (believe it or not).

But occasionally, I’ll be walking through a mall or something and get a brohoof from another random guy. And that’s when I smile and I know I’m not alone.

What’s the point of all this?

When I first decided to become a Brony (and yes, it was a conscious decision), it was because I knew I had to conquer the demon of fear. The demon of social disapproval. Just a few minutes ago, I was telling people in my break room about the Michael Morones fund and how Bronies have come to this poor child’s aid. A year ago, that couldn’t have happened. I wasn’t capable of it.

And while many of them have made silly comments about Bronies before…none of them did today. I don’t know if what I said will actually matter. But you know what? I want to go through life as trying to change the world around me. I want to leave the world a little better than the way I found it. I’m only one person. And while I know one person can change the course of history, I don’t see myself as one of those people.

I see myself as just someone who wants to help the people around him. I’ll often do it in foolish, stumbling ways, sticking my foot in my mouth and making an idiot out of myself. But I’m going to keep trying.

And that’s what my writing is all about. I’m not writing to make money. I’m not writing for fame or glory.

I write because I love to tell stories. And I want to share those stories with those around me. That’s it.

Would I like to be able to make a living off writing? Yes. And that’s why it’s my 5 year goal. But if I can give one person some joy through my words, then I’ve done what I’ve meant to do. If I can touch more, that’s just bonus.

This sounds rather silly. In fact, when I posted The Power of Communities, I doubted it would do much. I didn’t think it would get much attention. I even posted it again on Facebook, just hoping that at least one person might look to donate and help this poor child.

And then last night…a miracle happened. Something that shocked me. Something that shook me to the core. Something that told me my words were not useless. That they did matter. At least to one person.

A member of Michael’s own family. 

I have no idea how this person found my blog. With the enormous amount of donations and well-wishes, I have no clue how I could have gotten through to one of them. Granted, I had posted twice on Facebook and I did donate through Facebook…but still…considering the amount of visitors my page gets on a daily basis…

I don’t know. But I was so humbled by this woman’s comment. To be totally honest, I can’t even put the emotions I’m feeling into any sort of coherent statement. I don’t understand how I feel…but I know it’s powerful.

So, I’m going to post this. Not for me. But to show the power of the Brony community that I am so proud to be a member of.

Thank you so much for this wonderful post. Michael is a wonderful, sweet, intelligent and compassionate little boy. My son is his step-brother. My son happens to be autistic, and Michael…oh, the way he would protect him, and love him, and treat him just the same way he treated his own flesh-and-blood brothers…he’s just an amazing inspirational kid all around. Thank you for sharing your story on bullying. What was once regarded as a “rite of passage” as we transitioned from childhood to adolesence, has now become a full-fledged war with the internet being used as the prime weapon. The Brony Community has rallied around Michael, protecting him just as fiercely as Michael protects his own brothers. The Michael Morones Recovery Fund has reached nearly $27,000. That’s $9000 raised in just 2 days since you blogged on January 30. To put it simply: Bronies…you guys are what friendship and magic are all about. On behalf of the Morones and Suttle Families, thank you. God Bless all of you. – Stacy Suttle

So while the world may seem in flames…everything coming apart at the seams…political drama, wars, death, chaos and mayhem…

It might be a little cheesy, but I’m reminded of a line from a movie. It’s a movie that Laura and I watch every Christmas Eve while eating my homemade chicken fried rice. And it’s still one of my favorites. “Love Actually.”

It’s actually the first line in the movie, spoken by Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister of England.

And somehow…it seems suitable:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.

So I ask you…what do you want your message to be? Do you want to be the bully who spews hate and ridicule to make yourself feel more powerful? To crush those around you because you don’t understand them? To drive them into a spiral of self-hatred and depression?

Or do you want to give a message of love? Kindness? Loyalty? Laughter? Generosity? Honesty? 

Do you want to be able to do true magic?

Because there’s nothing more magical than touching someone’s heart.

That’s why I write. And it’s why I’m a Brony.

What about you?

Good night folks.

Good luck and have fun.

(And by the way, the fund is now at $32,125. Amazing, isn’t it?)

-rks

The Power of Communities: Helping Michael Morones

I don’t usually start posts like this, but this one is important, for several reasons. If you’re a follower of my blog, I ask that you read this in its entirety, despite what it may appear to be about at the beginning.

As many of you know, in the last year, I have become an avid My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fan. I’m more into it than my 3-year-old daughter Caitlyn. That’s no secret. And I’ve spoken at length about embracing passions that make you happy, even when they fly in the face of what’s considered “socially acceptable.”

That’s not what this post is about.

It’s about a boy. An eleven-year-old boy named Michael Morones.

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I want you all to read this story.

Michael Morones, an 11 year old boy in North Carolina, recently attempted to take his own life due to bullying received on account of being a fan of the show ‘My Little Pony’. Fortunately, the attempt was caught and halted in time to save his life, but he sustained severe brain damage. The family has reached out and is asking if the community from the show he loves can help out with the medical expenses.

Here’s What his Family have to say: Michael is a huge lover of all music. He started to learn Violin because of Lindsey Stirling and harmonica because of my career as a musician years ago. The more people that can share this the better. We want this beyond viral for two reasons, one to share the anti bullying message and two to share michaels amazing faith in God and I know if Michael was awake right now he would want to give nothing but forgiveness and love to the bully’s who teased him so they would know what it’s like to be accepted without harsh words or violence.

A bit more detail: On Thursday he attempted to take his life by hanging himself. He has suffered brain damage due to the lack of oxygen and the family is not sure what his state will be should he recover.

As you can probably guess, I can understand this child’s plight. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I was bullied, teased, ridiculed, mocked or any one of a dozen other words during my childhood. I was so incompatible with dealing with social situations during elementary school that I spent a vast majority of my lunches and recesses in the school library. I had very little in the way of friends growing up and frankly, I still find it difficult to develop true friendships.

During high school, a friend of mine named Amir killed himself. I don’t want to tell you how…but it was far more brutal than this poor child. I attended the same classes as him. I’d hung out with him. I honestly don’t know why he did it. But I remember feeling so damn helpless at the time, wishing I could have done something to help him.

As an aside, there are only two full books of my poetry in existence. One of them is in the possession of my grandmother. The other is in the possession of Amir’s mother.

There are horrors all around this world. Terrible things happen every day. Things that normal people don’t even comprehend. Some are great. Some are small. But they all hurt. I don’t believe the bullies involved in Michael’s incident wanted him dead. They have their own problems, their own insecurities. And likely the guilt of what they did will haunt them for the rest of their lives. I don’t hate them. I’m angry at them, but I refuse to hate them.

Why?

Because it’s against the message of the show that Michael loved.

Some of you ask why I am such a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. There is the wonderful characters, the brilliant (and often hysterical) music, the surprisingly good story lines, the animation and more.

By why am I open about being a Brony?

Because of the community.

As of today, the fundraiser for Michael has raised over $18,000. 

Stop and think about that.

The My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fan community has donated over $18,000 dollars to a boy they don’t know, they have never met and they will likely never meet.

There is no other fan community I am aware of that can claim such an amazing feat, especially not one based around anything like My Little Pony. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic celebrates the character traits of generosity, kindness, honesty, loyalty and laughter. They teach tolerance. They teach love, even those who are different. They teach believing in yourself. They teach friendship and the power of good relationships.

These are important messages. And there are very few shows on television right now that celebrate these things.

So this show has spawned a completely unexpected fan base way outside their demographic who actually decide to put these character traits into action.

Let me give you a few more examples:

Bronies for Good: “Bronies for Good is committed to fostering the growth of a global community of caring, socially conscious individuals through the organization of service events worldwide and encouraging individual, group and social involvement.” —Our mission statement

They have raised $30,000 for the Children’s Cancer Association. They raised $100,000 in 2012 alone for various causes. They support and organize  blood donations. They began Your Siblings, a charitable nonprofit organization with the aim to provide effective and sustainable humanitarian aid. This program carefully select their aid projects, applying strict criteria, and then support them with  donations, which they forward in full.

The Your Siblings Project has also accomplished the following: (Seeds of Kindness was a charity music album by prominent members of the Brony music community.)

  1. Seeds of Kindness 1 and 2 funded the Safe Project orphanage of Another Hope in Uganda, who just moved into their new building.
  2. Seeds of Kindness 1 funded a medical clinic in Uganda that has already made a difference hundreds of people’s lives.
  3. Seeds of Kindness 1 also funded the Green Village in Burundi, which has been able to accept more street children in, and has been able to reunite others with their families.

The Brony Thank You Fund, Incorporated is a New Hampshire registered non-profit corporation, organized to raise funds for donation to charitable organizations and to encourage such donations. This group is officially recognized by the United States Government as a 501(c) nonprofit organization.

These are some of the groups they have donated to:

12/24/13: $50,000.00
The California Institute of the Arts

11/18/13: $1517.00
Habitat for Humanity Intl

6/16/13: $2,515.71
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

5/15/13: $2,000.00
The College View School

3/27/13: 1,598.52
Engineers Without Borders, USA

3/27/13: 1,598.52
GLSEN

3/15/13: $8,477.87
The College View School

9/17/12: $11,960.00
Marine Toys for Tots Foundation
(Donated Advertising)

7/19/12: $6,000.00
Marine Toys for Tots Foundation

6/5/12: $1,000.00
Marine Toys for Tots Foundation

I want you to take a moment and think about this. Realize the implications of something as amazing as charities driven by “those strange guys who watch a show for little girls.”

There is something here. Something powerful. Something magical. Something that defies explanation.

It’s too easy to ignore Bronies as strange deviants who dress up in fursuits and flood forum channels with disturbing Pony imagery. For every one of the crazies, there are a dozen good people who had found a common bond through the community.

There are Bronies out there performing miracles of generosity, kindness and love every day. They are rarely recognized. They are rarely seen. Many of the donations on Michael’s website are anonymous. I’m reminded of Mark 9:41: “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”

Now I don’t pretend that all of these people are Christian. That doesn’t matter. What matters is the amazing power of generosity that this community had revealed.

So, in closing, I’d like to stop. I’m not asking for you to watch the show. I’m not asking you to like the show. I’m not asking you to buy the merchandise.

I’m asking you to think.

I’m asking you to stop.

I’m asking you not to mock anyone who professes enjoyment of six colorful cartoon ponies.

Because for all you know, that person may have just gave his gas money to a poor boy on life support, or Habitat for Humanity or helped orphans in Uganda.

As for me?

I was My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic because I like the show.

But I announce myself to be a Brony because of the community.

If you’re interested in donating to Michael’s recovery fund, please go to this website and donate anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s $5 or $500. Look through the donations. Every little penny counts.

Thank you everyone.

Goodnight.

-rks

Home Strech

NaNoWriMo

Well, I’m really close to finishing NaNoWriMo. I didn’t expect I’d be able to do it this year and I’m glad I was wrong. Because this story it turning out pretty cool. In fact, yesterday, I spent a bunch of time brainstorming the construction of Yellow Jubilation, the tak’tak home city. Below is Ak and Pauline telling Gaina a little bit about it.

“Yellow Jubilation isn’t what most people think of when they think of a city,” I said quietly. “It was built out of a unique part of the Thornwood by the tak’tak after their ‘birth.’ The whole area had been hit by a severe moonbreak some years before, creating these enormous trees hundreds of feet high built like steel.”

“Oh come on, Ak,” Pauline laughed. “You can do better than that!”

“I’m tired, Pauline,” I grunted. “It’s been a rough night.”

“Yellow Jubilation is unlike anything you’ve ever seen,” Pauline said in a voice of whispered awe. “The most of the ground floor is nothing but a huge port for the harbor that ships to the Western Isles and the Athlon Sea. The rest of it is an enormous series of farm terraces. But five hundred feet above that is where the city really starts. The trees actually grew together, their branches forming a massive platform that’s at least three miles wide. There are some larger areas and some smaller areas, higher and lower, but you could walk from one end of the city to the other without ever touching the ground. They’ve built entire towers out of these trees where the tak’tak’s live and work and everything else.”

“Sounds like an amazing place,” Gaina said.

“Oh and the Library there! The Rooted Library,” she continued. “It was actually grown from the Pillar, the greatest tree in the very center of the city, directly below the Triumvirate’s Amphitheater. It was built vertically and reaches all the way to the ground floor.”

Anyway, I’ve also had a ton of success with my new mapping system. Below you can see the original versions I posted last week.

I particularly like the way the forests came out...These mountains took way too long...

And here you can see the updated version with the new coastlines.

Coalition Wilds (New Coasts)Harklanian Union (New Coasts)

It actually looks semi-realistic now. I’ve done a rough outline on my process as to how I did this. I thought I’d have that ready to publish, but I want to do it again to make sure all the steps are correct. I found some great guides online at The Cartography Guild for GIMP and Photoshop, but Pixelmator, while similar, is actually an entirely different animal. And honestly using this technique gives me a LOT more control than any of their techniques did. (And I can’t stand GIMP. Drives me crazy).

You’ll also notice that I took some time to redo the city markers (capitals are in dark orange, cities are in yellow and towns are in purple), add in some rivers and lakes and even expand a few forests. I’ve also added the infamous Borderlands between the Wilds and Folas, a dangerous area unclaimed by anyone. (I decided I had made Taylin far too civilized) By the way, the red dashed line is the path of the RCS Rose on her maiden voyage.

By my next post, I should have NaNoWriMo done and won! Hooray! I’ve been pushing myself with a minimum of 2,000 words a day. That’ll be hard today since I’m getting sick with a sore throat, exhaustion and other general ickiness. But I’ll do it. This will be my fourth year running. 🙂

Princess Twilight Sparkle

Well, Season 4 premiered of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on Saturday morning. You know, I don’t know if I’ve ever watched Saturday morning cartoons before, even as a kid. It was a bit of an adventure since I don’t actually have real cable TV. So I got to watch an HD Livestream of the event that was kindly provided by a myriad of awesome people in the Brony community.

I then found a full YouTube HD copy of it. Now yes, I did download this, however I did also purchase the Season Pass through iTunes. The way I see it, if I want to get a gray copy of it before I buy the legit thing, that’s okay. Because Hasbro still gets my money. 😉

Thoughts on the episode? Well, you should probably skip this part if you haven’t seen it yet. And if you haven’t seen it yet, what’s wrong with you. In fact, let me make it easy on you. Here’s the link!

Now you have only yourself to blame.

I adored it. I find the fact that Twilight is essentially the same character with the worrying tendencies, the same care for her friends, the same love of lore is all still there. She’s just grown up a little, such as the scene where she commands the Royal Guards to continue their search for Luna and Celestia.

John de Lancie was wonderful as Discord. Simply brilliant. As stated in Equestria Daily’s Followup, Discord was doing an excellent job of teaching Twilight a lesson, though it’s only revealed at the very end of things. In fact, this is the most Q-style thing he’s ever done. Q was famous for trying to teach Picard and his crew “lessons” about their own internal struggles and conflicts, about the future and about what they could be. “All Good Things…” is probably the best example of this.

I loved the lore revelations of Celestia’s banishment of Luna (and how much of a badass Nightmare Moon really was), the defeat of Discord (and why Discord was in such a strange pose when he was turned into stone) and the revelation of the source of the Elements of Harmony.

But the best? The best thing was that they had to give up the Elements. Beyond anything else, this shows me the maturity and brilliance of the storytellers. For three seasons, the Elements of Harmony have been the “In Case of Break Glass.” They have been a very effective weapon against Nightmare Moon and Discord. I did enjoy that in A Royal Canterlot wedding, they didn’t make it to the Elements, but had Shining Armor and Cadance save the day instead.

What does it mean? It means that they can’t just depend on the Elements to get them out of stick situations. The Elements could have easily become the go-to weapon. But by removing them (at least for the time being) it forces the Mane 6 to handle problems in new and different ways. It’s truly brilliant.

Equestria Daily did a far better follow up than I could though. Complete with hysterical screenshots, including Discord in a French Maid’s outfit.

Other Things

Other things are going on. Such as my mom recovering from her knee replacement, me being sick, our continuing issues with Caitlyn’s discipline and other matters, but right now, I’m just too tired to go through the rest. However, I will mention that I finally got “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.” I’m loving it. It’s great storytelling…especially considering Nathan Drake usually approaches things with “Seriously?” He’s got a great attitude. It’s just fantastic.

What was even better was the letter that came with it, from a dear friend. Considering the day I had and the way she gently teased me about the whole My Little Pony thing, it was just perfect. That actually did more for my spirits than the game itself.

Oh yes, I also finished Mass Effect 3: Citadel. Best DLC I’ve ever played. EVER. Seriously, it’s freaking amazing. The game isn’t complete without it. You haven’t finished Mass Effect 3 if you haven’t done that mission. I’ll do a bigger write up on it another time. 🙂

And Tali’s doing just fine. She had her first bath last night. 🙂

That’s it for this week. And I’m only going to have one video this time…and of course, it’s the one above!

Good luck and have fun!

-rks